New Zealand Trumps America

  • Brand Finance conducts world’s most comprehensive survey of public opinion on nations’ handling of COVID-19 as part of Global Soft Power Index
  • 75,000 respondents from general public and 750 from specialist audiences asked about handling of COVID-19 by 105 nations worldwide, in terms of economy, health & wellbeing, and international aid & cooperation
  • General public rate New Zealand as nation that has handled pandemic best, with +43% score, while US ranks bottom globally, with -16% score
  • Germany’s efforts recognised by specialist audiences, ranked first
  • WHO’s response to global crisis receives top marks in China. Globally, 31% of respondents believe WHO handled pandemic well
  • Full results of Global Soft Power Index will be launched at Global Soft Power Summit on 25th February 2021

As part of the Global Soft Power Index – the world’s most comprehensive research study on perceptions of nation brands – Brand Finance asked 75,000 respondents from the general public and 750 from specialist audiences about the handling of COVID-19 by 105 nations worldwide. The respondents were asked to rate the nations’ efforts in terms of stimulating the economy, protecting the health and wellbeing of citizens, as well as cooperating on the international stage and providing aid. The full results of the Index will be revealed at the Global Soft Power Summit on 25th February 2021.

New Zealand versus the US

Hailed as a global success story in the combat of COVID-19, New Zealand has been rated by the general public as the country that best handled the pandemic, with a net score of +43%. The net score is the difference between ‘handled it well’ and ‘handled it badly’ responses across the three measures (economy, health & wellbeing, and international aid & cooperation). Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s swift response and clarity of communication in handling the crisis has been widely praised by the media and recognised by people the world over.

At the other end of the spectrum, ranking bottom among 105 nations globally, the United States has a regretful net score of -16%, certainly a contrast to how strongly the US performed on other metrics in last year’s Global Soft Power Index 2020 survey. President Donald Trump’s response to the pandemic has been causing controversy both at home and abroad, with the president repeatedly refusing to acknowledge and act on the severity of the situation. With the most cases and COVID-19-related deaths globally, the world’s largest and strongest economy has encountered harsh criticism and questioning on the global stage.

David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, commented:

“The stark contrast between the public’s perceptions of how New Zealand and the US handled the pandemic, epitomises the two nations’ contrasting visions of the world, spearheaded by almost polar-opposite leaders. On the one hand, we have Ardern’s open, liberal, and compassionate policies versus Trump’s often combative, protectionist, and isolationist approach. With President-Elect Joe Biden getting ready to take the reins of power next year, all eyes will be on him to kickstart recovery across the nation.”

Disappointing performances with reputations under threat

Other Western powerhouses’ weaknesses have also been displayed for the world to see during the pandemic, and their failings have not gone unnoticed by the general public respondents.

France (+15%), United Kingdom (+14%), Spain (+4%), and Italy (-1%), all record particularly low net scores. The UK in particular has struggled to negotiate the ongoing repercussions from the pandemic, including the fallout from the sharpest economic contraction on record – 20.4% in April this year, leaving the nation in a state of turmoil. The UK, Spain, and Italy are currently within the top 10 highest mortality rates per 100,000 in the world, with Italy recording the highest mortality rates per 100,000 among the three at 102.16.

Role models of crisis management?

Many affluent nations with a strong reputation of being well-run, have emerged as apparent role models in crisis management in the eyes of the public, often regardless of their approaches to handling the pandemic. Strong net scores above +35% were noted by nations such as SwitzerlandJapanCanadaFinland, NorwaySingapore, Denmark, South KoreaAustraliaAustria, and Sweden.

Sweden – a nation that was particularly controversial in its COVID-19 response, snubbing the lockdown consensus and imposing comparatively relaxed restrictions and policies in pursuit of herd immunity – has a troubling 8th highest incidence of deaths per 100,000 in the European Economic Area. However, the general public and specialist audiences both rank Sweden a high 13th globally for its handling of the pandemic across all three measures.

Japan has defied the odds of many that expected the nation to be one of the worst hit at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak – due to its proximity to China, its densely populated cities, and burgeoning elderly population. But it has emerged as relatively successful, with lower Coronavirus cases and deaths and with its economy faring better.

Lack of familiarity hinders nations

At the same time, many other nations do not receive enough credit for their efforts where credit is clearly due. Vietnam’snet score is just +8%, despite recording staggeringly low COVID-19 cases and deaths. The story is the same for Slovakia with anet score of only +5%, but with far fewer cases than its European counterparts and a successful mass asymptomatic testing programme, which countries like the UK are hoping to replicate, the nation nonetheless falls far lower down the ranking than expected.

The UAE is the highest ranked nation in the survey across the Middle East, and 14th globally, with a net score of +33%. The nation’s efforts, from international aid to vaccine development, have meant the UAE is perceived to have handled the pandemic better than its neighbours, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with net scores of +29% and +24% respectively. The nation’s lower levels of familiarity, compared to nations like Switzerland, Denmark, and Austria seems to be a limiting factor, however.

Steven Thomson, Insight Director at Brand Finance, commented:

“The results demonstrate that in order for nations to establish positive perceptions of their actions, there are many more factors at play than successful implementation of their policies. As shown, reputation plays a vital role, as does familiarity. Nations with high reputations are often given extra credit by the general public, while those receiving low media attention have notably underperformed in the survey.”

Germany’s success recognised by specialist audiences

According to the specialist audiences, in turn, it was Germany that has come out on top as the country that has handled COVID-19 best, with a net score of 71%. New Zealand was ranked 3rd by specialist audiences with a net positive score of 57%. Compared to the general public, the specialist audiences have understood and recognised the greater challenge that Germany has faced throughout the pandemic, as a nation with a much larger population and shared borders with several other nations, unlike New Zealand.

For the most part, the German government’s and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s response to the pandemic has been received positively both domestically and internationally and the numbers support this with the country recording consistently lower cases per 100,000 than its Western European counterparts.

China most complimentary of WHO’s handling of COVID-19 crisis

One further question was added to the Global Soft Power Index survey asking how respondents perceived the World Health Organisation’s handling of the crisis. Overall, 31% of respondents believe WHO ‘handled it well’, compared to 20% who believed it was ‘handled badly’.

Chinese respondents were the most complimentary of WHO’s handling of the crisis, with a net positive response of +53% of respondents saying the organisation ‘handled it well’. At the other end of the spectrum, Japanese respondents were the least complimentary, with a net negative response of -51% of respondents saying the organisation ‘handled it badly’.

Interestingly, there were mixed reviews across the US, which notably withdrew from WHO this year. 35% of US respondents said WHO ‘handled it well’, 26% ‘handled it badly’ and 33% answered ‘mixed’.


Note to Editors

The full results of the 2021 Global Soft Power Index will be revealed on 25th February 2021 at the Global Soft Power Summit.

The inaugural Global Soft Power Index 2020 report and the findings of last year’s study are free to access online. Our interactive dashboard allows you to explore the full results from the survey in maps and charts, rank nations by metrics and statements, and choose data sets to create your own graphs.

Full General Public results for COVID-19 question

Rank Nation Net Index Score Rank Nation Net Index Score
1 New Zealand 43% 53 Morocco 9%
2 Switzerland 42% 54 Poland 9%
3 Japan 41% 55 Hungary 9%
4 Canada 39% 56 Bangladesh 9%
5 Germany 39% 57 Angola 9%
6 Finland 38% 58 Uganda 8%
7 Norway 38% 59 Vietnam 8%
8 Singapore 37% 60 Indonesia 8%
9 Denmark 37% 61 Egypt 7%
10 South Korea 37% 62 Chile 7%
11 Australia 37% 63 Pakistan 7%
12 Austria 36% 64 Ethiopia 7%
13 Sweden 35% 65 Croatia 6%
14 United Arab Emirates 33% 66 South Africa 6%
15 Netherlands 32% 67 Uzbekistan 6%
16 Qatar 29% 68 Cambodia 6%
17 Belgium 28% 69 Peru 6%
18 Iceland 24% 70 Lithuania 5%
19 Estonia 24% 71 Slovakia 5%
20 Saudi Arabia 24% 72 Trinidad & Tobago 4%
21 Russia 21% 73 Bolivia 4%
22 Slovenia 20% 74 Myanmar 4%
23 Portugal 19% 75 Senegal 4%
24 Azerbaijan 19% 76 Algeria 4%
25 Jordan 18% 77 Lebanon 4%
26 Luxembourg 18% 78 Spain 4%
27 Czech Republic 18% 79 Ghana 3%
28 Oman 17% 80 Tanzania 2%
29 Israel 16% 81 Nepal 2%
30 France 15% 82 Dominican Republic 1%
31 Malaysia 15% 83 Iraq 1%
32 Kuwait 15% 84 Nigeria 0%
33 United Kingdom 14% 85 Tunisia 0%
34 Greece 14% 86 Bulgaria 0%
35 Turkmenistan 13% 87 Argentina 0%
36 China 13% 88 Ukraine 0%
37 Turkey 13% 89 Ecuador 0%
38 Bahrain 13% 90 Colombia -1%
39 Uruguay 13% 91 Jamaica -1%
40 Latvia 12% 92 Cuba -1%
41 Kazakhstan 12% 93 Italy -1%
42 Sri Lanka 12% 94 Honduras -1%
43 Serbia 10% 95 Romania -3%
44 Costa Rica 10% 96 Guatemala -4%
45 Panama 10% 97 Congo -4%
46 Coted’Ivoire 10% 98 Mozambique -5%
47 Ireland 10% 99 Iran -5%
48 Zambia 10% 100 Mexico -9%
49 Cameroon 10% 101 Kenya -11%
50 Thailand 10% 102 Venezuela -13%
51 Philippines 9% 103 Brazil -14%
52 Paraguay 9% 104 India -14%
105 United States -16%

About the Global Soft Power Index by Brand Finance

For over 15 years, Brand Finance has been publishing the annual Nation Brands report – a study into the world’s 100 most valuable and strongest nation brands. Focusing on the financial value and strength of nation brands, the Brand Finance Nation Brands study is based on publicly available information, including data compiled by third parties for other indices and rankings.

Building on this experience, Brand Finance has now produced the Global Soft Power Index – the world’s most comprehensive research study on perceptions of soft power of 100 nations from around the world. The Global Soft Power Index is based on the most wide-ranging fieldwork of its kind, surveying the general public as well as specialist audiences, with responses gathered from over 75,000 people across more than 100 countries.

Brand Finance has created the Global Soft Power Index to provide an all-round view of perceptions of nation brands – their presence, reputation, and impact on the world stage. Understanding those perceptions is key for governments and corporates alike to achieve success internationally, allowing them to identify strengths and weaknesses, and to improve growth strategies going forward. The stronger the nation’s soft power, the greater its ability to attract investments and market its products and services.

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